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In Twitter Meeting, Elon Musk Fields Questions From 8,000 Employees

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SAN FRANCISCO — For weeks, Elon Musk has publicly trashed Twitter, regardless that he’s buying the corporate in a $44 billion deal. On Thursday, he finally acted like an owner.

In an hourlong question-and-answer session within the morning with Twitter’s 8,000 or so employees — the primary time Mr. Musk has spoken with them since he agreed to purchase the social media company in April — the world’s richest man opened up about his plans for the service. In an effusive and at times rambling address, he touched on topics as varied as growth, potential layoffs, anonymity, Chinese apps, the existence of alien life-forms and even the cosmic nature of Twitter.

“I need Twitter to contribute to a greater, long-lasting civilization where we higher understand the character of reality,” Mr. Musk said within the meeting, which was livestreamed to Twitter employees and which The Recent York Times listened to.

The 50-year-old added that he hoped the service could help humankind “higher understand the character of the universe, as much because it is feasible to know.”

The meeting, which Mr. Musk participated in from his cellphone in what gave the impression to be a hotel room, suggested that he was set on closing the blockbuster acquisition. His intentions had been unsure in recent weeks when the billionaire, who also runs the electrical carmaker Tesla and the rocket company SpaceX, repeatedly raised questions on Twitter’s fake accounts in an apparent pretext for potentially ending or renegotiating the deal.

Since April, the famously mercurial Mr. Musk has tweeted that the acquisition was “on hold” and accused Twitter of “actively resisting and thwarting” his rights. At one other point, he had criticized among the company’s executives. He made his inflammatory comments as global markets tumbled and shares of Tesla, that are his predominant source of wealth, plummeted.

The antics from Mr. Musk, who’s paying $54.20 a share to purchase Twitter, had left investors, the corporate’s employees and others guessing as to what he might do. Twitter’s stock is now trading around $37. Yet the corporate has insisted that the deal stays on course and that it has been sharing information with Mr. Musk, who’s on the hook for a breakup fee of $1 billion if he walks away.

Mr. Musk did indirectly address on Thursday whether he would close the take care of Twitter, but he made it clear to employees that he had grand ambitions.

In the course of the conversation, which was moderated by Twitter’s chief marketing officer, Leslie Berland, Mr. Musk said he hoped to expand the service to multiple billion users the world over. That might be nearly 4 times the variety of current users. He added that he was hands-on at Tesla and expected to be so at Twitter.

Even with such a performance, some cautioned that Mr. Musk might still change his mind about completing the deal for Twitter.

“I assume he’s operating on two tracks,” said Ann Lipton, a professor of corporate governance at Tulane Law School. “Possibly he desires to lower the worth and even cancel the deal. If the deal goes through, he wants additional investors.”

She added: “Publicly talking to Twitter employees, attempting to assuage their concerns, possibly gives reassurances to potential investors. But I’m not clear whether that’s his Plan B or his Plan A.”

Twitter declined to comment on the meeting, and Mr. Musk didn’t reply to a request for comment.

Mr. Musk had been scheduled to talk to Twitter’s employees weeks ago, however the session didn’t happen. Then over the past week, the San Francisco-based company began collecting questions for him from employees on its internal Slack messaging system. The meeting, scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. San Francisco time, began a number of minutes late, with Parag Agrawal, Twitter’s chief executive, thanking Mr. Musk.

Then Mr. Musk began answering questions, including about distant work. This month, he sent memos to staff at Tesla and SpaceX saying he expected them to be within the office for 40 hours every week. Twitter’s employees have largely worked remotely within the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr. Musk told Twitter employees that he was open to their working remotely, on condition that developing software is different from showing up each day to construct cars. But he said a broad lack of in-office participation could contribute to a dwindling “esprit de corps” and hoped that individuals could be willing to enter the office more in the longer term.

Mr. Musk dodged directly answering whether there could be layoffs at Twitter, though his answer was somewhat ominous.

“At once, costs exceed revenue,” he said. “That’s not an ideal situation.”

At one other point, he digressed right into a discussion about whether extraterrestrial life was possible, though it was unclear where he netted out. He also brought up the Chinese apps WeChat and TikTok as aspirational, on condition that WeChat is so embedded in people’s each day lives in China and TikTok is “not boring.”

One improvement that Mr. Musk said he desired to make was adding payments technology to Twitter. Ideally, users would give you the option to send money backwards and forwards through the service, much like how products like Venmo or Square Money operate.

How Elon Musk’s Twitter Deal Unfolded

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A blockbuster deal. Elon Musk, the world’s wealthiest man, capped what seemed an improbable attempt by the famously mercurial billionaire to purchase Twitter for roughly $44 billion. Here’s how the deal unfolded:

The initial offer. Mr. Musk made an unsolicited bid value greater than $40 billion for the influential social network, saying that he desired to make Twitter a personal company and that he wanted people to give you the option to talk more freely on the service.

Mr. Musk, a longtime power user of Twitter with greater than 98 million followers, has long said he believes the corporate’s potential is underutilized. He has added that he hopes to rejuvenate the service outside the attention of the general public markets by taking the corporate private and making significant changes to how Twitter operates.

Inside Twitter, some employees have had mixed feelings about Mr. Musk. Some have said they’re concerned by his Twitter habits and murky politics.

On Thursday, employees at SpaceX circulated a memo saying that they were also concerned about their chief executive’s public behavior — particularly how he acted on Twitter — and that it reflected poorly on employees.

“Elon’s behavior in the general public sphere is a frequent source of distraction and embarrassment for us,” read the letter, which was obtained by The Times and reported earlier by The Verge. “As our C.E.O. and most outstanding spokesperson, Elon is seen because the face of SpaceX — every tweet that Elon sends is a de facto public statement by the corporate.”

Others at Twitter have said they were nervous by how Mr. Musk desires to take a laissez-faire approach to policing the platform.

On Thursday, he emphasized that he desired to make Twitter as inclusive a platform as possible, mostly by gaining more users, adding that he wouldn’t allow criminal acts to be carried out on the network. He said that he also didn’t intend to make people use their real names on Twitter and that there was utility in using pseudonyms to precise political opinions on the service.

Some Twitter employees, who’ve pointed to Mr. Musk’s repute as an innovator, said they felt heartened after Thursday’s meeting. Mr. Musk was not hostile and looked as if it would have a vision for the product, despite not with the ability to enunciate it clearly at times, they said. Others said he had not addressed their questions, with one worker writing in an internal Slack message, which was viewed by The Times, that “in case you took a drink every time he answered an issue, you’d be painfully sober at the top of this.”

Mr. Musk was noncommittal when asked if he planned to assume the chief executive role at Twitter when he took over the corporate. He said he wasn’t a conventional C.E.O. and pointed to his title at Tesla, which is Technoking. But he also noted that he had many ideas for product updates and the way the service should evolve, and that he would make those known to others throughout the company.

“I do expect that they may hearken to me on this regard,” Mr. Musk said.

Ryan Mac and Lauren Hirsch contributed reporting.

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